Snow storm prevents transplant patient from receiving heart

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A story of how the brutal winter weather — with all of its health implications — literally blew away the hopes of better health for one heart transplant patient. After hearing the news she had waited so long for — a heart was available — she discovered Mother Nature had a different plan.

Amy Lanning, Heart patient: “All these hearts here are for the surgeries I’ve had.”

They’re called “beads of courage,” and they hang at Amy Lanning’s bedside — each one representing a heart procedure.

Lanning: “When I get home I plan to string them around my house.”

For now, this is home.  Amy has been at Lurie Children’s Cardiac Care Unit for four months.  At 35 she’s not a typical patient, but this is where her doctors are–the same doctors who have treated her for more than three decades and who now say she’s too sick to leave.

Lanning: “The last couple years I’ve felt sluggish, very lethargic, not a lot of energy.”

She needs I.V. medications and extra oxygen — Amy’s heart is too weak to pump enough blood to supply her body.

Lanning: “They knew ultimately that the solution was going to be a transplant and it would be the best fix.”

There are blood pressure checks and blood draws and, in between all the activity, there is the wait.

Lanning: “It’s challenging, you learn a lot about yourself. I’ve had wonderful support.

Her struggle began when she was two months old. Doctors discovered Amy had been born with only one ventricle. That’s when she underwent her first heart procedure. There have been hundreds more since, and on Dec. 21, there should have been another.

Lanning: “Doctor came in and told me we had a heart. I was so excited all I could do was laugh and cry and hug my husband.”

She was told a transport team would soon be on its way to procure the organ.  But meteorologists predicted a different story.

Dr Michael Monge, cardiovascular surgeon, Lurie Children’s: “There was a severe snow storm on the night we received a heart offer for Amy, and flights were cancelled out of Midway.”

But the team at Lurie was standing by, hoping they’d be cleared to travel.

Lanning: “Eight o’clock, still no updates, then one of the doctors from transplantation came over and said we wouldn’t get the heart because of the weather.”

Dr Monge: “We have approximately six hours to get it into the recipient, so that factors in when we’re looking at weather patterns, making sure we can not only fly to the procuring hospital but also that we can return in a safe time.”

Lanning: “It was such a high and it was so exciting knowing I would have a bi fix and start to feel normal, it was devastating, hard to get through and very emotional for several days. I guess the only thing I can take away from it is it wasn’t meant for me.”

Now, more than a month later, Amy still waits and walks to pass the time.  A time she hopes will come soon–and not during another winter storm.

Lanning: “I’m terrified. Every time I look out the window and see snow or frozen ice I get very nervous, very scared. I don’t want it to happen to me again…I try to still think of the positive and know we’ll get through each day and there’s still a high chance I’ll get a heart on a sunny day.”

It’s rare that a transplant is cancelled due to weather, but the safety of the transport team is always a top priority. Amy’s family has set up a web page in her honor.


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